Stefano Domenicali: F1 chief does not expect female driver in next five years

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Formula 1 president Stefano Domenicali
Formula 1 president Stefano Domenicali says he believes the racing calendar could include 24 events next year

Formula 1 president Stefano Domenicali says he does not expect a woman to race at the top level of the sport in the next five years.

Domenicali said it was “crucial to give the maximum possibility for women to come to F1 – we are totally dedicated to that”.

But he added: “Realistically speaking, unless there is something like a meteorite, I don’t see a girl coming into F1 in the next five years.

“That is very unlikely.”

Domenicali added that F1 was “working to see what we can do to improve the system”.

Only two women, both Italian, have ever started an F1 World Championship grand prix.

Maria Teresa de Filippis competed five times in the 1950s, and Lella Lombardi took part in 12 races in the mid-1970s.

Lombardi is the only female to score points – she won half a point for finishing sixth in the truncated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

F1 is promoting the female-only W Series by running its races at grands prix this season.

Domenicali said: “We are very happy with the collaboration with Formula W.

“But we believe that to be able to give the chance to girls to be at the same level of competition with the guys, they need to be at the same age when they start to fight on the track at the level of Formula 3 and Formula 2.

“We are working on that to see what we can do to improve the system. And you will see soon some action.

“We want to build up the right parameters with the right approach for them to start racing against the guys, at the right age, with the right car.”

Jamie Chadwick
Britain’s Jamie Chadwick has said she would be “happy to be the guinea pig” for female drivers in Formula 1

Two-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick is aiming for F1, but has said she is not sureexternal-link whether women will be able to cope with the physical demands currently required to make it there.

One issue is that while F1 cars have power steering, those in F2 and F3 do not.

Chadwick said: “Without power steering and driving big, heavy cars, a lot of women do struggle, even though they have been successful in go-karting.”

Domenicali, who was speaking in a wide-ranging news conference before the resumption of the season in Belgium this weekend, did not expand on what plans he had to ease women’s path to F1.

South Africa and the future of Belgium

Domenicali confirmed he was in discussions to hold a race in South Africa at the Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg, but did not say whether the event would make it on to the calendar in 2023 or 2024.

“I always said we want to have a race in Africa and today the most likely place to have one is South Africa,” he said.

“Discussions are going on. We are looking for a very solid and clear long-term commitment. It is taking time. I think we will clarify it in the next days.

“The commitment to being in Africa is one we want to take, but we want to take it right.

“The calendar will be defined in the next couple of weeks maximum.”

The return of South Africa was considered a threat to the historic Belgian race at Spa-Francorchamps, but Domenicali said people should be “very prudent” before saying this year’s Belgian Grand Prix would be the last.

He said discussions were ongoing and added that the Belgian GP promoter would spend “a lot of time in my office this weekend”.

China is pushing for a return to the calendar next year for the first time since 2019, after missing the past three seasons because of the country’s Covid restrictions.

Domenicali said: “Covid is unclear, and all the major sports leagues are waiting to understand what is going on, and we believe we will have a clear guidance on what is the scenario for China in the future by the end of this year.”

He pointed out that the Chinese Communist party was holding elections in October. After that, Domenicali said, “the first point will be to understand what are the Covid regulations applied in that country and then we will see how the situation will evolve”.

Max Verstappen at the Belgium Grand Prix
Max Verstappen claimed victory at the 2021 Belgium Grand Prix, where Formula 1 will reconvene after its summer break this weekend

Asked about China’s human rights record, and whether its increasing isolation on the international stage could put the race under threat, he said: “The political line of the sport is always very thin. We need to be always prudent.

“But we always said we want to put the spotlight on our positive values. In all the countries, we are going to be highlighting what we believe is the right thing to highlight. If it is not happening, we will take the right decision to move out.”

This comment, BBC Sport understands, is not to be interpreted as a suggestion that the Chinese Grand Prix is under threat as a result of the country’s current stance on human rights and geopolitics.

Domenicali said Saudi Arabia would remain on the calendar despite the concerns raised by drivers after a rocket attack on a nearby oil refinery during this year’s race weekend in Jeddah.

And on the country’s promises to improve its human rights record, Domenicali said: “They are pushing to change what they believe is the right way to move forward.

“You cannot expect a millennial culture to move from day to night but we will help with our spotlight to make sure what they promised will be delivered. Otherwise, then things will be different.”

He said he believed the calendar would be 24 races next year, which would be the longest in history, and said “the market has requested this number”.

He added “23 or 24 races is the tipping point, the maximum”.

Fewer races, he said, was not possible because the historic races in Europe “cannot be expected to have the financial strength to cover the money the others are paying” – a reference to higher fees demanded of promoters in the Middle East and elsewhere.

And he said the calendar would look “different from the last couple of years” in 2024 because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan moves to the beginning of March.

He did not explain the ramifications of that, but it is likely to mean that Bahrain and Saudi Arabia cannot start the season as they have this year and are expected to in 2023. Australia is likely to return to its former slot as the first race.

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